Sunday, May 31, 2009
Cowell's Got Talent
Lunching on some deliciously authentic Italian pizza in Ago, Robert de Niro’s restaurant in West Hollywood, Simon Cowell was telling me his latest idea. “Tom”, he said, “there are so many talented people we can’t put on American Idol because they’re not young singers. I’d like to do a talent show, and find people who can do amazing things. Fat, weird, old: most of them will be rubbish, but we might find some really outstanding acts.”
That was in 2004. It’s nice to be in at the start of something big, even though I can claim not a jot of credit for what became Britain’s Got Talent. I told Simon his concept sounded a bit like The Gong Show, a 1970s American comedy series in which very bad acts tried to survive the gongs of three celebrity judges. After lunch I stupidly forgot about the idea, but Simon is relentlessly focused, particularly if he spots a gap in the market.
The gestation took quite a time. The following year he registered the name “Paul O’Grady’s Got Talent”, which was to be a new ITV vehicle for the comedian until he fell out with the network and the project was shelved. Eventually Simon sold America’s Got Talent to NBC, and it wasn’t until 2007 that it came back across the Atlantic. Thank goodness it did, for otherwise there’d have been nothing to talk about at dinner parties for the past two months.
You’ve got to hand it to Cowell: he certainly has his finger on the pulse of popular taste. It’s not always tasteful, but it sure is popular, and on Saturday night at least 15 million viewers saw the downfall of Susan Boyle. No longer dressed in drab curtain material, she stood scowling in a shiny silver backcloth stolen from a Glasgow nightclub and repeated her reedy rendition of the wretched “I Dreamed A Dream”. I told you she was just an average singer when I wrote about her first performance and on Saturday night the viewers confirmed it with their votes.
During the show I must have heard the phrase “tonight someone’s life will be changed forever” a dozen times. I do hope that’s the case for Ms Boyle. Once her inevitable album has been remaindered, I trust her life as a celebrity will be transformed back into a calmer, more appropriate existence. She should never have been uprooted from her Scottish village: she has neither voice, personality nor stability to face a career in showbiz.
Meanwhile I hope we’ll be seeing a lot more of the two real stars of the show, the winning act Diversity’s gifted choreographer who rejoices in the name of Ashley Banjo, and the wonderful singer Shaheen Jafargholi, whom I predict will emerge as the true winner once puberty and a few years have matured him. It’s a shame the producers put Shaheen on so early in the proceedings. The number of viewers always increases dramatically through a final, so it’s not surprising he was pipped to the winner’s podium (the last three acts got the most votes).
But then, that’s just my opinion. I’m pleased the judges got it spectacularly wrong. Piers Morgan told Diversity that “I thought Flawless (the other street dance act) just edged you”, and Amanda Holden, dressed as Jessica Rabbit, condescendingly told them there might be “room for you” in the world of showbusiness. In fact I predict they’ll bring the house down at the Royal Variety Performance. Nevertheless, is it just me, but isn’t it time we saw some real professional talent back on British television? I’m getting a bit fed up with all these amateurs. It’s a bit like the programme’s sponsors, Domino’s Pizza: OK for a takeaway, but not nearly as delicious as the real thing.